In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says the biggest complaint kids will have with Greetings From Witness Protection is that it ends! How amazing is that? Sassy, snarky Nicki Demere—a 13-year-old foster kid with a big heart and the quick hands of a seasoned thief—is commissioned by the U.S. marshals to join a family in the Witness Protection Program that is hiding from one of the deadliest crime organizations in the country. As daughter Charlotte, she’ll help them fly under the radar in North Carolina. And it’s a wild ride as she navigates hitmen, cyberbullies, and the dreaded standardized testing. Author Jake Burt manages to be both poignant and funny in his middle grade debut and we’re lucky to have him here with us today to answer a few questions – welcome Jake!
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
I can trace my love of all of the above back to my dad reading The Hobbit to me when I was a kid. He did voices for each character, and I vividly recall being enthralled. Since, not a day has gone by where I’m not stunned by the power that a good story possesses. I use them in my classroom to teach, and nothing captivates my students more than when they sense a story coming on. I learn anecdotally, too, and I’m particularly susceptible to the emotional magic stories weave; I’m fairly addicted to that breathless, hollow-yet-full sensation one gets after reading a great story and realizing it’s come to an end.
What was the best part of writing Greetings From Witness Protection?
Meeting Nicki. Yes, I storyboard and outline, but there’s this wonderful thing that happens once an author sits down to actually write. The character’s voice comes through, and quite often she’ll let you know that what you thought happened in your tale…well, that’s not quite how it happened. I realize that sounds quite meta (or, perhaps, delusional), but I find myself continually and joyously surprised by what reveals itself as I’m writing. In the case of Greetings, Nicki was a phenomenal character to interact with as she related her story to me, and I’m honored that she chose me to tell it.
You strike a great balance between funny and serious. Is this something you thought about in advance of writing the novel?
Not a ton; I think that if I sat down and said, “Okay, this needs to be 50% funny and 50% serious,” I’d stagnate myself attempting to achieve that balance. Real life is at times funny, at times serious, and at times both. As a result, I try to be real, and let the humor or drama evolve naturally from that.
Nicki/Charlotte is sassy and snarky, just my favorite kind of character. Is she based on people you know or did she just show up in your head?
I’m sure she’s an amalgam of quite a few things, but she largely just showed up in my head. One of my absolute favorite musicians, Tori Amos, has described her songwriting process as an opening of the mind, which then allows the songs to choose her as their conduit. Despite the mythological underpinnings of such a philosophy (she attributes the facilitation of that creative flow to the faeries), I find it really resonates with me, because I can’t think of a more apt way to describe it. Nicki popped into my mind, and she wouldn’t be quiet until I told her story for her.
Writing for middle grade readers can be a challenge. What about this age range/genre appeals to you?
My answer here is the same as when someone asks me why I love teaching fifth grade: they’re old enough to get my sense of humor, but young enough to still believe in magic.
Who are your favorite authors?
Tolkien, Sir Thomas Malory, Peter Beagle, Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Dr. Seuss, Bob Salvatore, Cat Valente, Mark Twain, Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and about four hundred more.
What is your favorite thing to do when not writing?
Playing games. Sports, board games, video games, party games, camp games, you name it.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished the copyedits for my second novel (due out in October of 2018, also with Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan), and I’m getting ready to submit my third book…fingers crossed!
How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?
I love to hear from my readers via my website: www.jburtbooks.com. There’s an easy form to fill out there that gets the message right to me. Of course, letters via regular mail are fun, too, and the address for those is also on the website.